In California, the crime of petty theft, commonly known as ” shoplifting,” is punished by California Penal Codes §484, 488, 490.1, and 666. A theft crime is considered to be petty theft when the items or value of the property alleged to have been taken is less than four hundred dollars ($400). Petty theft is a misdemeanor and punishable by up to 6 months in jail, probation, fines, community service and theft education classes.
The offense of petty theft may, under certain circumstances, be charged or plead to as an “infraction” – which is technically a violation of the law but not a criminal offense and not punishable by jail or probation. According to California Penal Code §490.1, theft as an infraction involves property valued at less than $50.
Since the crime of theft is “priorable,” meaning it can be charged as a felony when charged against a defendant with a prior theft conviction, it is important that your case is thoroughly reviewed by a San Diego theft attorney with experience defending these cases. If your petty theft case is pled as an infraction, rather than a misdemeanor, the offense will not be priorable for purposes of a future offense, and you will not be faced with jail or probation.
Penalties for Petty Theft in California
An individual commits petty theft when they intentionally steal property valued at less than $400.00. If it is an isolated offense committed by an individual with no prior criminal history, punishment could range from simply court ordered restitution to the victim in the amount of the fair market value of the property, or the defendant could receive up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of no more than $1000.
Depending on the circumstances of your case, it may also be possible to achieve a civil compromise, wherein the victim is paid restitution by the defendant – and if the court is satisfied by the amount of restitution and the victim no longer desires prosecution the court has the discretion to dismiss the criminal case.
If the stolen property in question is valued at $50 or less, and the individual has no prior theft-related offenses, the prosecution may treat the offense as a mere infraction that carries only a fine of up to $250. If the crime is in fact charged as an infraction, you will not be entitled to a court appointed public defender. Therefore, if you feel you have been wrongfully accused of petty theft of property worth less than $50, it is critical that you speak with an experienced San Diego petty theft lawyer about the matter.
Understanding Petty Theft Charges
If you have previously been convicted of petty theft as a misdemeanor, and are charged with petty theft once again, you are facing the possibility of being charged with the crime of petty theft with a prior, and suffering a felony conviction. California Penal Code §666 governs petty theft with priors and states in relevant part:
Every person who, having been convicted of petty theft, grand theft, auto theft under Section 10851 of the Vehicle Code, burglary, carjacking, robbery, or a felony violation of receipt of stolen property, and having served a term in any penal institution or having been imprisoned therein as a condition of probation for that offense, is subsequently convicted of petty theft, then the person convicted of that subsequent offense is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison.
Prior theft offenses may greatly increase the punishment for petty theft crimes. With a prior theft crime on your record, even for the smallest offense that would otherwise be eligible for an infraction rather than a misdemeanor, you may be facing up to one year in jail or up to 3 years in state prison.
Get Help from San Diego Theft Crimes lawyer Marc S. Kohnen
The world isn’t a perfect place, and sometime overzealous store loss-prevention officers wrongfully accuse honest people of shoplifting or petty theft. In order to be convicted, the individual must intend to permanently deprive the owner of the value of the item. This requires a specific intent to steal. If you simply forgot to pay for the item, intended to return it , or felt that the item belonged to you, you may not be properly convicted of this offense as you did not have the proper mental state necessary to support the crime.
If you feel you have been wrongly accused of theft, the sooner you consult a San Diego theft crimes lawyer, the sooner they may begin negotiating with the alleged victim and the prosecution in an effort to have the charges dropped or reduced. San Diego criminal defense attorney Marc S. Kohnen will gladly meet with you for a free consultation to explore your options and all available defenses that apply to the facts of your case.